Court upholds settler purchase of Hebron building

J'lem court orders state to return Beit HaShalom to Jewish community in 30 days; Defense Ministry authorization still needed.

Beit HaShalom in Hebron 390 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Beit HaShalom in Hebron 390
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Thursday evening upheld the Hebron Jewish community’s purchase of a four-story building in that city known as Beit Hashalom.
It ordered the state, which had jurisdiction over the property during the court proceedings, to return it to the Hebron Jewish Community within 30 days.
But to legally move into the apartment building, its residents need the Defense Ministry to authorize the sale and their presence there.
“We have received a wonderful Rosh Hashana present,” Hebron Jewish Community spokeswoman Orit Struck said.
She added that in light of the court ruling, it was time for the state and the Defense Ministry to do some soul searching with respect to the way they had treated her community over this issue.
A force of 600 border police and IDF soldiers forcibly evacuated residents from the large stone structure in December 2008. Twenty-three right-wing activists and four police officers were lightly to moderately wounded in the clashes that ensued, as security personnel dragged people out of the structure.
In addition, right-wing activists clashed with Palestinians in the area around the building, including in the valley below it that leads to the Kiryat Arba settlement. At least 20 Palestinians were injured, including a man and his son who were shot.
In March 2007, 150 settlers moved into the building, saying that Tal Investments and the Association for Renewing the Jewish Community in Hebron had bought it, in transactions that occurred in 2004 and 2005, from its Palestinian owners for NIS 700,000.
But the owners denied the claim and asked the police to evict the building’s Jewish residents.
The Palestinians petitioned the High Court of Justice against the residents, and the state told the court the settlers had to leave.
It based its response in part on police allegations that documents relating to the sale were forged.
But the court said that the property should remain vacant until the purchase claim was adjudicated.
Settlers then turned to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, which on Thursday ruled that they had indeed purchased the property and that they were not the ones who had forged the documents.
Jewish ownership of the structure expands the community’s property holding in the city.
The structure is located on the outskirts of Hebron, near Kiryat Arba. It overlooks the road that leads to Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs and provides a strategic overview of the area.
It is also abuts a Muslim graveyard and a mosque, as well as Palestinian homes and shops.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now called on the Defense Ministry not to authorize Jewish presence in the building. “There is no need to expand the Jewish community in Hebron,” Ofran said.
She added that the residents presence in the home prior to its evacuation in 2008 had been a provocation. In the days that led to the evacuation right-wing Jewish activists vandalized the mosque, the cemetery and a number of Palestinian homes in the area.
But Likud Ministers Yuli Edelstein, Gideon Sa’ar and Israel Katz said Thursday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak now had an obligation to right the injustice that had occurred and to allow the Jewish families to return to Beit Hashalom.
Kiryat Arba Council head Melachi Levinger, whose father, Moshe, was among the founders of the Hebron Jewish community, said the court’s ruling “proves our contention throughout all these years that we have the right to buy property and settle anywhere in the Land of Israel.”
He called on Barak to allow Jewish families to return both to Beit Hashalom and to another structure that the community says it bought this year, Beit Hamachpela, located near the Cave of the Patriarchs.
“This is a significant news, coming as it does on the eve of Rosh Hashana when thousands of people come to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs and the city of their forefathers,” Levinger said.